January 19, 2016

The fallacy of technology

It has been said over and over that technology shapes behavior, and that behavior fuels technology changes. But if you take the magnifying glass and look closer, we'll see that the relationship is far more complex and in some cases quite unpredictable.

In order to make this point clearer let's start with an real life example. Videoconferencing and video calls. This is a true example of a type of technology that used to be marketed some years ago as something that would shape behavior and change the way people communicate. In the business world video conferencing was for a long time a very expensive technology, and one that could only be afforded by companies with centers of decision scattered across the globe, or distant geographical locations. As soon as broadband telecommunications price started dropping and video compression technologies evolved, video conferencing started to be available to more and more companies and organizations. Did this change the way people worked?
Did this revolutionized the remote working practices? Of course not. The chain of command that is enforced in most organizations is still very much based in personal interactions, face to face communication, endless meetings, and non-verbal communication to send power based messages that somehow are diluted in video communication.
Did technology changed behavior in this space? No.

Let's now go on to the personalized aspect of video communication. The mass market adoption. Starting with Skype and then later with Apple's Facetime or Google's Hangouts. Who are the main users of such technology? Well, families can be considered as being in that group. Elements of a family that are either out on a trip, or live distant from each other. Specially families of military serving overseas. Now, not all families that are separated by distance use video. Over the years several attempts have been made to make this a profitable technology, but somehow people got used to the idea that it's there, exists, and it is used in very particular situations, but does not change behavior.

Video based communication is just one small example in the long line of technology that is part of the predictions made in the past about its impact in the future.

On the other hand, internet based social networks have taken off dramatically in the last 10 years. This is a very good example of the dichotomy between technology and behavior. A lot has been said and written about the impact of social networks, but very few people stop and think which one shapes the other.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that technologies that seem useful contain the fallacy that they will change human behavior, and others that seem superficial and somewhat irrelevant are picked up by human behavior and taken to levels of importance that no one could foresee.

The key element here is time. The next time you read or hear that technology A or B will change the world, please be aware of these considerations, because sometimes irrational behavior shapes technology, and completely shallow and somewhat useless technology will most probably have a dramatic impact on human behavior.

November 19, 2015

Hybrid Cloud is a two way street

A lot has been said about Uber. But probably what few of us know is that the people that drive Uber cars have day jobs: they work at stores, teach in schools and in some countries they also drive cabs as well. This digital platform that is changing the way we move and share car transportation is first and foremost a job enabler. From one end the customer has agility, flexibility and low price, and from the other end, people that want a second or third revenue stream have the opportunity to do it transparently. In the middle there’s the platform. Paul Sonderegger, the Oracle Strategist for Big Data, explains it on his series “Data Capital”. The three main principles: 1) Data is a capital on par with financial capital 2) Data generates more data and 3) Platforms tend to win. And everybody is fighting to be “the platform” that intermediates digital businesses of getting people from point A (here) to point B (there).
Paul's session at the Oracle Open World (OOW) conference in San Francisco, made it abundantly clear that, like financial capital, data capital can be used by organisations to distance themselves from the herd, or simply to offer a better service: public or private.

The choice deployment model is the step that precedes the adoption or creation of a platform to enable the usage of data as capital. And this deployment model, for most companies will be a mix between public cloud services, private cloud services and IT functions that are scattered around the organisations. This deployment model is called: Hybrid Cloud. Mark Evanko, CEO at Bruns Pak, a USA, NJ based Data Center company, calls it a "mix of data center facilities, co-location, cloud services, network and disaster recovery". 

Judith Hurwitz, co-author of the "Hybrid Cloud for Dummies" book, talked about "touch points" between public and private clouds that articulate combined services. She also mentions that these are early days. But that was 2012! And this is 2015 almost 2016!! There are many "touch points" today, and there are several platforms that claim to enable the creation, management and automation of these combined services.

But on this journey, Hybrid Cloud is a two way street. It needs an operational model that caters for both movements: to the cloud and back. The tools are obviously there (Oracle, Microsoft, Red Hat and Google all have big investments in this area), but only one vendor seems to shout out loud that the tech stack is the same on both ends: Oracle. Some organisations have already started a public cloud journey with several vendors. This is an even bigger "mix".

A cross vendor public cloud deployment is also something that has been discussed in several forums, as organisations are doing this movement of evaluating the mix of several public clouds. The IT industry has made this movement in the past, and after an inflexion point it started a consolidation effort without precedent. From consolidation to convergence. The burning question is: will the Hybrid Cloud deployments follow this trend? In hindsight most organisations have already started big consolidation movements. Some of them with Oracle technology. This is why they should continue this journey leveraging hybrid cloud use cases, and holding hands with a strategic cloud partner.  

The challenge remains the same. Mark Hurd's OOW keynote emphasised it clearly: “It’s about getting from here to there, at a lower cost and get fast innovation… now!” 

October 1, 2015

Change and what it means in today's IT

We live very interesting times in enterprise technology. Sometimes I look back and try to remember what was the piece of technology that changed the most, and I know that most of my fellow colleagues do the same.
Several candidates for the most shape shifting technologies could rise from an imaginary big list of inventions, but I bet that none of them would include database technology. There's simply so much to choose from:

- High speed bandwidth networks that allow us to consume everything from "clouds"
- Flash storage
- Hand-held mobile devices so sophisticated and powerful that would but to shame super computers from last decade
- Electric cars, drones, 4K, candy crush :)

The list could extend for several hundreds of items. And again, very few would mention: database technology. Nevertheless, it's one of the few technical areas that you can explain to your grandmother! Everyone knows that data is stored digitally in databases, and some even think that databases are like Orwellian Big Brothers that know more about the citizen than his/her better half.
But if you talk to a database engineering team, they would tell you that these are the single most sophisticated pieces of software technology that were ever wrote. Again some people might disagree and refer other magnificent pieces of brilliantly written software in areas like biomedicine, education, engineering or in the entertainment industry.

The point I'm trying to convey is the sea of difference between the public perception and the hidden reality of key enterprise technologies that power the digital age. Some of these people who fail to acknowledge the advances in database technology are even graduated in IT related disciplines but probably under heavy influence of web development mantras. This means that the database was perceived as just a hidden layer that pops out and pushes in data like it's no big deal. The bigger the size of data, the bigger the hardware database server needs to be and that's about it. Some Web gurus will go on and about on application caches, distributed computing, and other data acceleration mechanisms only with the ultimate goal of having optimal response times. That's what web development was all about.

Fast forward to today and no one cares about the technologies behind the cloud. Each person owns at least one PC and one mobile device and the expectations are higher than ever. Usability is not enough. It has to be amazing. It has to look smart. It has to act cool, be sharp, be free, etc. Welcome to the world of apps. Some people even say "software is dead", but the fact is that software has never been so alive, so complex, so hard to integrate and so fast changing. Software is the real shape shifting animal and the database is the queen of all enterprise software.
So next time think twice before you say: 'Databases have not evolved in the last 20 years' or 'Databases are boring'. It simply couldn't be further away from the truth.

Next on this blog: kitchen appliances that haven't evolved in the last 20 years.

Have a great day.